The Last Word: Mistaken assumptions and the ones that are just right

A common sports cliche is that money buys success.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
There are too many assumptions in sports. Assumptions that simplify situations and try and make things black and white, when really, and quite obviously, there are only shades of gray. One of the biggest assumptions that has been made in Israeli sports over the last six months is that money buys success, with all fingers pointed at Betar Jerusalem and billionaire businessman Arkadi Gaydamak. This is a questionable clich which is often assumed to be a complete truth. Those fans of English soccer among us have seen both the true and the false sides of this. Proving the worth of cash, we witnessed the famed Blackburn side of 1995 which saw the SAS duo of Sutton and Shearer power the team bankrolled by Jack Walker to the English Premier League title. And not to forget the new Chelsea, all but indistinguishable from the Chelsea of old, now with two back-to-back Premier League titles and the possibility of another, should Manchester United slip up. However, the failure of Blackburn to back up its league win and the incredible implosion of Leeds United in the early 2000s despite the influx of massive amounts of money shows it is not always so easy. Leeds, especially, went gung ho in the transfer market, managed to reach the Champions League Semifinals but then got relegated, sold all of its good players and is now in a terrible situation stuck at the bottom of the League Championship. Since the start of the season, it has been assumed that Betar, with Gaydamak's millions, would easily win Israel's Premier League. Now that the team is at the top of the standings, seven points clear with only six matches to go, the assumers appear to have been proved right. But tell that to any of the hardcore Betar fans packed at the top of the Mizrahi stand on Saturday night, and they will tell you a different story. There are two important points to be made: first, that Betar really isn't playing million-dollar soccer that the critics of Arkadi's financial backing would assume; and second, that it is the original youngsters and not the expensive signings that are pushing Betar towards the finish line. Last summer, the club was wallowing in self gratification and then-chairman Vladimir Shklar gave then-coach Ossie Ardiles the green light to spend too many shekels on too many average players who turned out to be not as good as was expected. In came Joano Pinto, Christian Fabiani, Milovan Mirosevic and Derek Boateng. Pinto and Fabiani have since left and of the foreigners who remain, Mirosevic may have his moments, but it is only Boateng who has made an impact. Of the other expensive signings, the three Brazilians brought over in the summer have been non-entities, left back Roni Gafni has been a joke and center-back Shimon Gershon has been average. Only Michael Zandberg, Toto Tamuz and Arik Benado have been worth it, and all three could have been bought at a lesser price than Gaydamak paid. The fact is that Aviram Bruchian, Barak Itzhaki, Tomer Ben-Yosef and Amit Ben-Shushan have been making the most important impact, with Itzhaki scoring two goals Saturday night for the second weekend in a row. The much-hyped Tamuz has faded in recent games and the introduction of Betar's youngsters, those who have grown at the club over the last few years, has proved that perhaps there was no need for the millions in the first place. The question now is whether Betar will be able to survive in the 2007/08 Champions League.